Tips for teachers

| March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Katy Mthethwa

At the beginning of the year, the classroom walls are bare.

To make sure that parents – and perhaps the principal – don’t think the classroom stark, or the teacher lazy, posters about key words relating to the curriculum and school rules, values and policies suddenly appear on the walls.

What should go on the walls?

I have thought a lot about classroom walls recently… what was I going to place on mine at the start of the year? What would engage and stimulate the boys in my Grade 5 class? How did I want them to be thinking as they entered the classroom? There’s a cupboard in my classroom full of bright, colourful posters. I do not want to overload my classroom with endless material, which the children don’t look at because they don’t know where to start. I don’t want an overstimulating and cluttered classroom that doesn’t help them focus.

I aim to display their work as soon as possible, because my recent research confirms that when we display children’s work, it gives purpose and value to their ‘blood, sweat and tears’, to their editing and re-editing of creative writing, their problem solving, their masterpieces. This was evident when another group visited my classroom last year. The impressed boys enquired of their peers, “Did you write these?” as they read the story openings on the wall. Faces beamed as work was appreciated, and hopefully the admirers were challenged to improve their own story writing.

Process even more important than product

When children know that their work is to be displayed, it has a significant impact on their attitude and approach. Their work has value and they become more engaged. However, as I perused the latest research from Harvard, ‘Making Learning Visible’1 (MLV), I discovered that when we document and display the process, not just the outcome, it has even greater value. As children document their progress in the display, the evidence of learning rather than achievement becomes the focus. Perhaps, once we recognise the process as important, it will also help overcome the tendency to display the ‘best’ work. It is, after all, the effectiveness of the process that determines the quality of the final product.

As we begin to see the classroom walls not as display boards or reference points, but as tools for engaging students in reflection and learning, we will find that they come to life. I’ve used ‘growing’ Thinking Maps2 in my class, where boys add to a tree map categorising the grapheme of their ‘phoneme of the week’, or a Circle Map with a word we need synonyms for during writing. When they identify words as they read their books, they add them to the map. These interactive displays make children more conscious of what they have been learning, and ‘tune them in’ to noticing their application.

Posters are valuable student tools

Some of the posters in my classroom are far from perfect. However, they are created by the children to remind us of important points to remember when we proofread or problem-solve, etc. The children own them. They are student tools, not teacher tools. Maybe, when we realise the impact that our walls can have on children’s self-esteem, motivation and purpose, when we understand the power of the tools at our disposal, we will change the writing on the wall.

References:

1. See, for example, http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/tag/makinglearning- visible/.

2. See, for example, http://dft.designsforthinking.com/.

Category: Autumn 2013

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